On September 18th and 19th, the Smith River Rancheria hosted the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Training Summit at the Lucky 7 Casino event center. The 2 day summit invited all local veterans to attend free informational sessions on topics such as enrollment and eligibility for benefits, VA special programs, a workshop for submitting claims, understanding reimbursement agreements, and a panel discussion regarding housing and the homeless. The conference opened with the colors being presented by the Vietnam Veterans of America Brookings chapter 757. Chairperson Miller gave everyone a warm welcome then council members in attendance accepted on behalf of the Tribe, a plaque made by Alaskan veterans in a training program that helps teach new skills. It is on display at Howonquet Hall.
During the conference, the VA honored WWII veterans, 3 of whom are Native American. Vice Chair Denise Padgette’s father Frank Richards was one of the honorees. They were presented with a personalized “quilt of valor” in recognition of their service. The Del-Norte high school language class helped out by serving the veterans in attendance their lunches. It was a pleasure to have the young people involved and a good experience for everyone.
Council secretary Loren Bommelyn wrapped up the first day with a cultural presentation. Taa-laa-wa Dee-ni’ Military Legacy. “A unique American Experience” His presentation was very informative and enlightening. It explained the Native Americans road to US citizenship starting with WWI, the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, and culminating with full citizenship by 1948 for 125,000 to 300,000 Indians.
The final day’s topics included a panel discussion on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), sexual trauma in the military, a listening session with senior VA leaders, and finally digital story telling: Weaving Wellness, healing, social advocacy and change. Colors were retired, and the closing prayer and songs provided by Loren Bommelyn.
The successful conference was attended by veterans from Washington, Oregon, California and Alaska. Many thanks to Terry Bentley, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Tribal Government Relations Specialist, for bringing all this information to our doorstep, and to the Tribal Council of Smith River Rancheria for their support. The VA representative stated of all the conferences they present, Smith River had the most involved council members and for that they are grateful.
The Smith River Rancheria was pleased to host this conference as another way of showing our heartfelt gratitude and to honor our veterans that have so gallantly served this country. We can never say thank you enough.
The information presented at the conference can be made available to anyone interested by contacting the Smith River Rancheria administration office